By Ashley Boyce, an allied health world staff writer
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Allied Health World interviewed Michelle Milligan, a recent graduate of a prestigious herbalist training program, in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of what aspiring herbalists can expect from these programs. You’ll find information here that will help make clear what’s involved in the academic and field training involved in earning a degree in herbal medicine:
Are more advanced or specialized herbalist degrees available?The type of degree an aspiring herbalist chooses to pursue is largely dependent on the type of work he or she would want to do. It is not uncommon for people to study the art of herbalism simply as a means by which to personally enrich their lives without any intention of practicing professionally. Although most enter the field professionally with a certificate, there are advanced and specialized degrees available to those interested in the other aspects of herbalism and herbal science. Some choose to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s level degree in herbal science that would prepare them to work in an herbal pharmacy, a clinical setting, or to perform laboratory and research work.
Other people prefer a traditional earth based approach to herbal medicine and pursue programs specific to western botanical medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and Ayurvedic medicine. Most programs in traditional herbalism will provide a level of training in all of these specialized areas. These types of certificate level training programs prepare graduates to work independently in a private practice geared towards direct contact with the public; counseling people on the medicinal use of herbs.
Are there apprenticeships available for herbalists looking to enter the field?Of the 1600 total hours of curriculum common of campus-based herbalist training programs, about 400 are spent in clinical practice. Distance learning herbal medicine courses, which have gained more academic credibility in recent years, are increasingly becoming the option of choice for aspiring herbalists. However, because these online distance-learning courses don’t provide the supervised clinical training some students would like to have before entering the profession, participating in mentorship programs with established practicing herbalists has become the most common means by which to receive hands on clinical training. The American Herbalist Guild (AHG) maintains a list of practicing professional herbalists who have opened their practices up to offering mentorship programs to those students interested in clinical experience.
What is the traditionalist perspective versus the progressive perspective on licensing and credentialing bodies for herbalism?Within the community of professional practitioners of herbal medicine there are two camps representing two different schools of thought: The traditionalists who would rather the practice of herbalism remain ungoverned, and the progressives who embrace the idea of certifying agencies and licensing bodies that oversee the practice of herbal medicine.
The traditionalists argue that those who have practiced herbalism for many years and who draw from ancient wisdom to provide a level of understanding and intuitive knowledge to their clients, needn’t be obligated to join a professional organization or be subject to licensing requirements. These purists assert that they apply a level of reverence to their practice and genuine commitment to the wellness of their patients that no bureaucracy or professional organization could mandate or enforce.
In speaking with Michelle Milligan, a professional herbalist who has earned a Bachelors of Science in Herbal Science and who works in an herbal pharmacy, we learned that there is validity to the assertions put forth by both camps, “Both avenues will continue. The public needs a way to select a reputable herbalist based on a credential and AHG registry, but the old knowledge still needs to come through. It needs to happen that way so the old knowledge is not lost.”